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Schools Are The New Hotspot For COVID Cases In LA County

Kids stand lined-up in a school yard wearing masks.
Kids line up outside school on the first day at Montara Avenue Elementary School in South Gate.
(Alborz Kamalizad
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More COVID-19 cases are being reported among children since schools reopened, with many outbreaks tied to youth sports, according to L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.

Overall, there has been a small downturn in new COVID cases since last week, Ferrer said Thursday at her weekly press briefing. She added that cases may be “stabilizing,” but county residents are still at high risk, since the transmission level is considered high.

“Delta is no less infectious this week than it was last week,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer said the county recorded 3,186 new cases in L.A. County schools during the week of Aug. 16. The vast majority — almost 2,700 — were at L.A. Unified schools.

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The majority were just single cases, not outbreaks of three or more cases, though many students who were in close contact with those infected were quarantined. Last week, LAUSD had outbreaks at 84 sites.

“Through last week, we’ve been seeing about three outbreaks a week [in schools],” Ferrer said. “This week, we’ve seen five, involving 27 students and three staff.”

High transmission of the contagious delta variant, coupled with children 11 and under unable to be vaccinated, will lead to more cases.

“We anticipate an upward trend in outbreaks,” Ferrer said. “It's worth noting that of the 14 school outbreaks that [L.A. County health department investigated] in August, half were associated with school sports.”

Multi-day indoor high school cheerleading and dance camps accounted for many of these cases, involving 10 staff and 131 students. Ferrer said many of the students were mingling from different schools and districts and often did not wear masks, including on buses where they rode together or while they stayed in hotel rooms. None of the camps were in L.A. County. Ferrer said no one associated with the outbreaks was hospitalized or died.

Los Angeles County reported 3,226 new COVID-19 cases and 31 deaths Thursday. County Public Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said Wednesday that rising case and death figures worry him and that vaccination rates — while increasing — could still be higher.

"We really do want people who are unvaccinated and those who have started vaccination who haven't finished to follow through and go ahead and get fully vaccinated," he said.

The FDA's full approval of the Pfizer vaccine inspires some hope, according to Davis.

"The approval was just recently and I think many people are wrapping their heads around it still," he said. "But that does give confidence to some that it's gone through that full licensing approval."

Davis adds that test positivity rates remain around 3%, even with the addition of testing at K-12 schools. And now, college and university classes are starting again. The county is monitoring what effect their testing programs is having on the positivity rate.

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